There's a big difference between data and information, although the distinction can be subtle. Over the past few years I've been very interested in helping organizations determine whether their communication efforts are achieving desired results and, especially, their social media efforts. Social media is such a "big deal" these days that it's not unlikely for organizations and individuals to want to "jump on the bandwagon" or continue to participate in social media simply because "everyone else is doing it." Unfortunately, that's not always a good reason to invest time and resources.
The difference between data and information can be helpful here.
Data is simply "the numbers" or metrics. Information is derived from those numbers, but must represent something worthwhile and meaningful to marketers. Raw numbers, or data, just won’t do it. Information is the translation of data into meaning.
So, for instance:
Knowing how many followers we have on a Twitter account represents data. Knowing how these followers generate into some downstream impact (e.g. requests for information, sales) represents information.
Knowing how many "likes" a post received represents data. Correlating likes into insights that might suggest opportunities for new product development or service improvement represents information.
As you seek to measure the meaning behind the numbers, it is important to:
Review your organization's, client’s, or your own, strategic plan, goals and objectives to understand what information will be meaningful.
Move beyond "process" measures — e.g. # of followers, # of RTs, # of likes, etc., to focus on "outcome" measures that are tied to some legitimate bottom-line metric.
Ultimately, what marketing communication professionals should attempt to do is find ways they could connect their communication activities to desired results and, consequently, generate information to drive meaningful decisions and action.
Here are some additional tips for how data might be translated into meaningful information:
Metrics can be built around either increasing revenue or saving on expenses — both are meaningful and important.
Social media posts that include a link to a landing page can be tracked based on the sales generated through the post (as long as a unique landing page is used). General links to a web site might be analyzed based on a "funnel" approach indicating how users came to the site, where they went next and if, ultimately, they made a purchase (or performed some desired action - e.g. requesting a white paper, signing up for a webinar, etc.).
One example of how reductions in expenses could be tracked and documented through the use of social media is in recruiting—costs saved on paid advertising used for past recruitment efforts could be pointed to as an expense reduction, for instance. Measures related to quality of hire might also be used.
Another potential area of cost reduction for many organizations is r eduction in call center staff as answers to common questions could be conveyed through FAQs, providing a “do-it-yourself” option for consumers and customers.
Training and education can also be accomplished online via social media — the use of Pinterest, for example, to display infographics that provide easy-to-digest information on a variety of topics could be used with both internal and external audiences. Savings could result through decreases in staff time spent at live training sessions, or viewing webinars/videos. Impact could also be measured based on improvement in job performance, decrease in errors, etc.
Numbers are nice but they don't really tell us anything unless we've spent the time to consider how we might turn the numbers — data — into information that has some meaning and that is relevant to our, or our client's, organization.